A judge sentenced a former Customs and Border Protection officer to 10 years in prison Wednesday for accepting a $17,000 bribe during a sting operation.
U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Oziel Cantu, 48, of Alamo to 10 years in federal prison followed by three years on supervised release.
“I’m sorry,” Cantu said Wednesday afternoon, when he appeared in court for sentencing. “I know the word ‘sorry’ is not enough.”
Customs and Border Protection assigned Cantu to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, where he conducted immigration and customs inspections.
Cantu had financial problems, according to his attorney, Rick Salinas of Mission.
Cantu asked his wife’s cousin’s husband to connect him with smugglers, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexis Garcia, who prosecuted the case. The cousin’s husband set up a meeting in Mexico.
Unbeknownst to Cantu, however, a government informant attended the meeting.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and the Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility set up a sting operation.
An undercover agent met with Cantu in July 2020 and paid him $2,000. They met again that August.
“During the meetings, CBPO Oziel Cantu discussed smuggling narcotics from Mexico into the United States through the Pharr POE,” according to the criminal complaint against him. “CBPO Oziel Cantu stated that in exchange for cash payment of $15,000.00, he would assist a vehicle concealed with 40 kilograms of cocaine make entry into the United States through the Pharr POE.”
POE is an acronym for Port of Entry.
The undercover agent told Cantu the drugs would be hidden in a white Chevrolet Silverado and the driver would place a red hard hat on the dashboard.
“On August 19, 2020, at approximately 5:39 a.m., CBPO Oziel Cantu instructed UCA-1 that the vehicle containing narcotics was going to be clear to pass inspection at the Pharr POE. A few minutes later, at approximately 5:46 a.m., CBPO Oziel Cantu further instructed that 3 inspection lanes would be open and that the vehicle containing narcotics needed to proceed through inspection lane 1 as soon as the Pharr POE was open,” according to the criminal complaint. “Shortly thereafter, an undercover agent (“UCA-2”), driving a white Chevrolet Silverado concealing 10 bricks of sham cocaine, weighing approximately 11.35 kilograms, made entry into the United States at the Pharr POE through inspection lane 1.”
Agents arrested Cantu that afternoon.
Cantu pleaded guilty to bribery in April 2021. He faced a maximum of 15 years in federal prison.
“Mr. Cantu has taken complete responsibility,” Salinas said.
Alvarez, the federal judge, said people who plead guilty to illegally crossing the border frequently tell her they’re fleeing violence and corruption.
What separates the United States from many other nations is the integrity of public servants, Alvarez said, and the United States can’t let corruption go unpunished.
“You made a choice,” Alvarez said. “And you made a choice, understanding very well what it could result in.”